Media Lens

Posted: October 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Media Lens is a media analysis website that is based in the United Kingdom. Its founders, David Cromwell and David Edwards, believe passionately that the media, whether conservative or liberal, are part of a larger mechanism that advances the corporate interests of both the United States of America and the United Kingdom. After all, the main newspaper corporations are dependent on their advertisers for as much as 75% of their overall revenue, while some news organisations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have their senior executives appointed by the government.

Media Lens focuses very much on events that they feel the mass media is reporting inaccurately either as a result of omission or commission. A very startling example of this is covered in a book that the editors of the website co-authored: Guardians of Power (2005). In the book, the authors ask about the reasons for the war in Iraq, dissecting what George W. Bush and Tony Blair said to the media in order to garner support for the invasion. The authors showed how Tony Blair lied to the United Nations, claiming how the satellite photos that the British government procured were “indisputable” evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Media Lens asked hard questions about why such claims were allowed to be made (and, in fact, regurgitated by the media) without any editor checking to see if what was said was true.

Another example of how the media manipulated data is how the results of a 1998 United Nations Weapons Inspection team were totally glossed over in the days leading up to the war. The inspection that was carried out between 1991-1998 had in fact shown that Saddam Hussein had either dismantled most of the WMD in Iraq or did not have any to begin with. In fact, just after their extraction, the U.N. chief inspector, Scott Ritter, declared that Iraq had “no significant weapons of mass destruction”. Another issue of contention the Media Lens editors had was with the media’s portrayal of the circumstances of Weapon Inspection team’s extraction from Iraq. While the media reported that the team was “recalled” from Iraq when it occurred in 1998, the media had an about-turn and universally started calling their extraction an “expulsion” in the days leading to the invasion, seemingly forgetting that it was a voluntary withdrawal issued by America.

All these lead one to wonder how far a reach it is that corporate interests have when it comes to news organisations, even ones purported to be objective. To be fair, the editors of Media Lens believe that these slants that the media portrays are more due to the belief system of the organisations than overt agendas by particular journalists. If time permits, I recommend that you look through the Media Lens website or get a copy of Guardians of Power.


What advantage does the Mainstream Media (MSM) have over the New Media (NM) anymore? The Magic Bullet theory days are long gone, where the powers-that-be dictated the public consciousness. Since the early 1990s, when the Internet first gained prominence, the decline of the MSM has been marked. Previously, where the only source of news was either through the newspapers or through word of mouth, there was now an alternate voice.

However, the first NM websites to publish alternate sources of news were heavily slanted towards the conspiracy theorist side of things. They were the websites set up to “inform” the public about the Area 51 and Roswell Conspiracy theories. These were set up by individuals who felt that the MSM were not representing their interests enough, and wanted to share what they knew with other people. While their ideals are, to say the least, slightly misguided, this is the basis for NM: social duty. The man on the street chooses to share his experiences and knowledge with his fellow man. While this is something the MSM can attempt to emulate (through editorials), it simply cannot compete with the plethora of insights from bloggers around the world; Thomson Reuters has a staff of 55,000 in 29 countries, but this really cannot compete with the number of individuals in Singapore alone who are capable of airing their views through their blogs.

Although the MSM is better funded than individual bloggers or the man on the street, it does not necessarily mean that it produces more accurate or more reliable information (see example here).

In fact, there are many citizen bloggers who blog about a certain industry for which they used to work for or have past experiences working within the MSM. The quality of input from these people are, as such, as credible as the editors working within the MSM if not even more so. It is true, however, that due to this funding, the MSM is able to have sources from every corner of the world, and also have access to technology that the common man does not. An example would be the meteorological services. The MSM will never be totally out of the game because, having the funds, it can partner with institutions that provide technical information, get the information first, and distribute it to the masses.

The MSM seems to recognise that it cannot compete with NM, choosing instead to adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. Most people know about this, that newspapers have their own official websites to compete with blogs. Websites such as Stomp, which promote citizen journalism have also been set up. What they do not know, however, is that the Straits Times (and various other news networks) have also started appearing on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Now, Facebook and Twitter users can receive updates from the MSM while browsing through their friends’ statuses or looking through updates from their favourite singers/artistes.

This encroachment into NM territory appears to be a concession that the MSM in its traditional form can no longer exist; it needs to almagamate with NM in order to survive. This has caused an emergence of a new form of media: the New Mainstream Media. This would enable the MSM to keep to its roots, while keeping up with the NM, being able to reach out to a greater audience, remaining relevant in our lives.

Both NM and MSM are required in our lives; the balance of stability and dynamism that both provide are such that they complement each other perfectly. And with the New Mainstream Media breaking through, we can be sure that they are both here to stay.



New Media vs Old Media


Trick or Treat!

Posted: October 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

Halloween is fast approaching. 31 October is a mere 2 weeks away and many families in America are gearing up for Halloween celebrations, decorating their houses and purchasing sweets to give away. Halloween is the third-largest party occasion in North America, with candy sales during the period being second only to the Christmas period.

An integral part of Halloween as celebrated in America is the tradition of trick-or-treating. Trick-or-treating is a very simple practice in which children of various ages, dressed up in costumes, would go door-to-door, asking for treats (usually candy, or, at times, money). If the owner of the property does not have any treats to give, the children would then play a trick on him. These tricks are largely innocuous, as most kids are only out to have fun on the day itself.

The tradition of trick-or-treating is one that is only possible because of how low-context a society Americans are. In contrast, in a country that is as high-context as Korea or China, few would expect children to go knocking door-to-door, asking for treats. Fewer still would expect the children to play tricks on the homeowner if not given their treats.

Individuals in low-context societies are more individualistic; they go for what they want, whether or not their peers want the same thing. They tend to be more honest and in search of social recognition, frequently getting out of their comfort zones to achieve their goals. Halloween, as such, is a perfect opportunity for them to get what they want: free treats. The amount of effort that they invest (ie the number of neighbourhoods they traverse) would correlate to the amount of rewards they attain. As the American society is generally low-context, the concept of Halloween thus fits in very well with the society.

Compare this to a relatively higher-context society like Korea. Koreans are generally collectivist, with propriety being a significant part of their upbringing. Due to this, there will be more resistance to the idea of going door-to-door and asking for free handouts- even if it is just for fun. The Koreans would also be less willing to “rock the boat” by asking complete strangers for treats, which, again, is another hallmark of a high-context society: modesty.

The festivals and traditions that a country has is shaped by its culture. Singapore, a country that used to be quite low context, is now moving towards the higher-context end of the spectrum. A by-product (although not necessarily a resultant one) of that is the number of youths that are now going door-to-door trick-or-treating. A decade ago, it would be a rare sight indeed. However, in the past few years, many condominiums as well as community centres have started initiatives to get people into the spirit of Halloween by encouraging the practice of trick-or-treating. The responses have been fairly good, garnering the support of parents as well as children. Halloween, it appears, is here to stay. Let us enjoy ourselves by getting into the spirit of trick-or-treating!


Origins, Customs, and Traditions of Halloween

Relationships, Examined

Posted: October 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

Analyzing a dyadic relationship (specifically romantic) would seem to be typically straightforward. After all, all that a person would have to do is analyze the relationship according to Knapp’s Model of Relational Development (1984). However, to do  just that and discount the context would be most spurious indeed.

One cannot forget that the context the relationship transpires is most important. Let us take for example a couple in the 1940s. A couple like that would have been far less likely to experience more of the world than a couple of today. As such, the kind of events that occur around their lives would have been more local. The media then was also much tamer compared to the media of today.

Sexual liberation seems to be the theme of every entertainment magazine these days. Magazine covers are full of scantily-clad models/actors/actresses while the latest gossip column perpetually highlights the latest adulterous affair any high-profile actor has had. Hollywood also glorifies the concept of sexual freedom, with many actors the lead roles having multiple relationships at the same time (a salient example being the various James Bonds). With the idea of sex being profane permeating through to the masses, it is easy to realize why and how relationship development is so different now.

The sanctity of a romantic relationship has thus been eroded to such an extent that  there is no longer any purity left in it. People get into relationships because “it’s convenient” or because “it brings up (my) street cred”. The concept of courtship has all but disappeared from our vocabulary. Where divorce used to be a taboo topic, it is now seen as an avenue of escape; a get-out-of-jail-free card, so to speak.

With society being as such, the perspectives of individuals even before they enter Stage 1 (Initiating) of Knapp’s Model is severely altered. Some individuals even skip Stage 1 altogether, jumping straight to Stage 2 (Experimenting) before regressing to Stage 1. For that matter, couples oftentimes rush through the stages so fast that quite a few of the stages are skipped. As relationships that are rushed are not built on solid foundations, we find that many relationships these days meet premature ends.

However, take a look at Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew’s relationship with his wife, the recently-diseased Madam Kwa Geok Choo. Theirs was a relationship that had its foundations on solid ground, one that went through Stages 1 to 5 as outlined by Knapp without being hurried. This led to a marriage of more than 50 years, which only ended due to Mdm Kwa’s tragic passing on October 2.

You do not marry the person you love; you love the person you marry. This old adage has certainly applied to the relationship between MM Lee and Mdm Kwa Geok Choo. “Love” is an emotional concept. It makes people rush into things unthinkingly. It rushes relationships, thus causing instability. “Love” will fade, and as such, it is important to ensure that there is rationality in the relationship to complement the irrationality. If, however, you love the person you marry, ironing creases in the relationship out together, it is almost a certainty that the relationship will be a long and fruitful one.


A Tribute to Mdm Kwa Geok Choo

Lie to Me

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Cast of Lie to Me

Non-verbal communication is an art form fast getting lost in our ever-accelerating society. The emphasis on getting work done, that is, to bring across ideas in a concise and simplistic manner is so much more than being able to sense the “soft message” that is being transmitted along with it. This “soft message”, is, of course, non-verbal communication. However, thanks to a television show, “Lie to Me”, that is being shown in America on the Fox Television Network, there is now a spotlight shining on non-verbal communication.

“Lie to Me” is a television show based loosely around the work of Dr Paul Ekman, a psychologist who was named one of the top Time 100 most influential people in 2009. His work largely revolved around human emotions and how we express them. His research was extremely groundbreaking, with most psychology students unknowingly using his research, in particular the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a system without which the study of psychology could be put back a decade or more. He specialized in deception, leading a project along with Dr Maureen O’Sullivan called the “Wizards Project” in which he attempted to study the layman’s ability to detect lies told by others.

His studies, however, were not confined solely to the face; he also studies the rest of the body. For example, he studies the types of nervous tics a person has when he lies, such as the way he adjusts his collar or pulls at his ear.  After all, it is much easier for a person to control how and what he says (since he’s actually conscious of it) than the movements his body subconsciously makes. Another aspect of his research is what is known as “distancing language”. That is, when a person phrases his words in a certain way to distance himself from a subject. This largely occurs when the person is lying. The most well-known example would be when then- American President Bill Clinton declared that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski”.

The program has been getting pretty decent reviews, recently having been renewed for its third season starting November 10. Such a show on primetime television will do wonders for the study of non-verbal communication, and in particular, the field of kinesics. In fact, quite a few of my friends who keep track of the show actually started reading up on Dr Ekman and his research, with a few attempting (rather amateurishly, I might add) to see if they could spot signs of deception.

The main reason I feel Lie to Me is good for the average television viewer and for the society at large is that it popularises a science that, while tremendously useful, would have been consigned to dusty libraries, with possibly only law enforcement officials making use of it. Now, the layman is exposed to the existence of such a science, and the ideas are also communicated very succinctly to the audience. How hard is it to remember that a look of genuine surprise involves the eyebrows moving up at the same time as the jaw dropping? Most people attempting to fake surprise only do one of either. Also, people who are lying tend to strive to make eye contact, as they are trying harder to project sincerity. This works contrary to popular opinion, where eye contact is usually associated with being truthful.

I think that Lie to Me is a worthwhile watch, and if you feel like picking up a television show where you’ll learn something, then Lie to Me is the way to go.


2009 Time Top 100 Most Influential People- Paul Ekman

Wizards Project

Paul Ekman Official Website

Interesting Reading

Blog of a Truth Wizard

(picture taken from Speak Good Singlish Movement Facebook page)

Singlish is a hotly-contested issue in Singapore today. The Speak Good English Movement was launched just this month on 7th September in order to stamp out Singlish and promote the usage of “proper standardised English”. However, there have been murmurs of discontent; many Singaporeans are unsurprisingly displeased with the Government’s stance on Singlish. While most people believe that proper English is a must to have, they find that this clampdown on Singlish (which includes guerilla tactics such as pasting post-its on signages with improper use of English) is a step too far.

Singlish is an integral part of our society. It has evolved alongside our population for the better part of more than half a century. It is who we are, and to deny that would be an affront to our culture. Already we are lamenting that we have lost our roots, having grown homogenous with the rest of the globalised world. The government recognised that our culture was slowly being eroded and thus set out to rectify the problem, splurging millions of taxpayers’ money on preserving our heritage. However, it is a tad myopic for the government to classify traditional buildings as part of our culture yet dismiss Singlish as being a detriment to society. Sure, I can understand how important being able to communicate in proper English is to our standing as a global city, but it is time for the powers-that-be to realise that it is possible for English and Singlish to coexist.

Let us take it into context: Singlish is widely regarded as being a vulgar way of communication, but only within Singapore society itself. Any foreigner coming to Singapore for a visit would not associate our slang with being vulgar or even rude. It is just as how Singaporeans go overseas and converse to the people there in English and experience difficulty understanding them. It is just what makes us unique; it is what makes us Singaporean. More importantly, it helps us to identify each other when we meet overseas. Ever so often do you hear tales about how Singaporeans meet overseas because one party overheard the other using a leh or a lah.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis claims that language shapes our environment, and our cognitive processes are hugely influenced by the way we speak. For example, the word “shiok” can hardly be explained in proper English. The closest anyone could get would probably be “a sense of satisfaction”. However, any Singaporean would tell you that that definition does not even begin to capture the essence of the word. There are so many other words that make Singapore so much more colourful.

Another advantage keeping Singlish is is that it actually promotes tolerance towards other races. This is particularly important in a people-driven economy like Singapore. Singlish is a mixture of English, Malay, and several dialects of Chinese. It helps to foster a sense of camaraderie whenever we use a slice of another race’s lingo. For example, when I was in the army, my Malay friends and I would agree to go and “lepak one corner” when we had finished our duties. The Malays would also learn slices of Mandarin or Hokkien to converse with us. However, this is not learning the language per se. This is how Singlish evolves: when someone mixes one language with another.

To the powers-that-be, I implore you thus: let us keep our “unofficial national language”. We know better than to overuse it when in the company of foreigners. Let us decide for ourselves. We deserve to have that right.


Speak Good English Movement Launch

Examples of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The date: September 8, 2010. The venue: Jalan Besar Stadium. The match: Young Lions vs Beijing Guoan. The now-infamous video posted above, featuring a brawl between the two sides was, taken then and there. It is a video that has ignited widespread indignation amongst many locals here in Singapore, with many making the Young Lions out to be the victims. A scene like this a mere ten years ago would have simply been a national issue; the footballing authorities would have looked into the issue and disciplined the parties involved.

In this increasingly globalised world however, international news agency Reuters has taken the time to publish a short story on the incident, giving the story a global audience. Stories like this that get published by international news agencies such as Reuters or the Associated Press construct an image of what Singapore is like to potential visitors.

Thankfully, for every incident such as this that causes negative publicity, there are many more which provide positive publicity such as the Youth Olympic Games, or the International Monetary Foundation-World Bank meet held in 2006, an event which hosted a multitude of some of the most powerful men in the financial industry. There was also the Singapore Grand Prix (2008-now), as well as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits which are rotated around the respective ASEAN nations.

However, as an ancient Chinese saying goes, it takes ten days for a good man to be corrupted by evil, and ten years for a wicked man to be virtuous. It is pretty safe to say that the single most salient issue that most foreigners remember Singapore for is that Michael Fay incident. For those not in the know, Michael Fay was an American citizen arrested in 2003 in Singapore for vandalism. He was charged in court and received a fine of SGD$3,500 and 6 strokes of the cane. The incident caused an uproar in the international community, with then-American President Bill Clinton sending a personal request for clemency to then-President of Singapore Ong Teng Cheong.  The request for clemency resulted in Michael Fay’s sentence being commuted to four strokes of the cane.

It used to be that whenever I went overseas and told people that I was from Singapore, one of three things would happen. Some of the people I talked to will profess an ignorance of where Singapore is. Others would raise an eyebrow and ask if chewing gum was really banned in Singapore. And yet others would chuckle and ask, “the country where Michael Fay got caned?”

The Chinese saying mentioned earlier comes into play here. Singapore’s image, which we painstakingly try to uphold, had been beaten down badly prior to 1995 with the ban of chewing gum and the Michael Fay caning. It received another bruising with the fracas at the football match in the video above.  Thankfully, other than that, there had not been much other major negative press generated from Singapore since then. And, one can always hope, the positive press that Singapore has been receiving will overshadow the negative.

I draw your attention to the Youtube page where the video above is hosted. You will find that the language used there is Portuguese. Dig a little further, and you will find that the uploader of the video is actually a resident of Brazil! Brazil is in South America, nowhere close to Asia, let alone Singapore. For the video to even surface there should be a warning to everyone that we all have to be wary of the image we project. Image is power, and Singapore needs to communicate the proper image to the world right now.

UK Reuters
“Singapore Whipping”
Youtube link for embedded video